There are so many different Mythology and Mythological Beings recorded. Some are very popular and well known, others not so much. There are many similar beings, yet different depending on the culture it’s based in. The definition of Myth covers about anything in the Urban Fantasy/Fantasy realm to me.
This week we have:
Fantasy author Rachel Neumeier
Talking of the Griffins.
|Zoological Museum, Copenhagen|
So, why griffins?
Griffins were actually an obvious choice for me. I’m not saying griffins are my favorite mythological creature. I sure don’t have anything against dragons, for example. In fact, dragons appear in two of my own books (The Floating Islands and House of Shadows), though the dragons in each book are certainly very different.
But I’ve always had a soft spot for griffins.
Not because of any particular symbolism associated with griffins, though. I mean, I know that griffins have had all kinds of associations, in all kinds of cultures. Take, for example, the Pisa Griffin. (It’s the same Pisa as the one with the Leaning Tower.) This huge bronze statue may be in Pisa, but it was made by an Islamic sculptor in the 11th Century. Around its chest and body, there’s an Arabic inscription saying: “Perfect benediction, complete wellbeing, perfect joy, eternal peace and perfect health, and happiness and good fortune for the owner." That’s quite a load for one statue to carry, even if it is the largest bronze statue known from that era.
|The Pisa Griffin|
And in European heraldry, griffins are supposed to symbolize strength and valor and nobility. This makes sense, because after all a griffin combines in one creature both the “king of beasts” and the “king of the air.” In his book System of Heraldry (1722), Alexander Nisbet described griffins thus: "The griffin represents wisdom joined to fortitude, but wisdom should lead, and fortitude follow." And – here’s an interesting tidbit – the griffins shown in heraldry are almost all female! Because in European heraldry, only female griffins have wings. Male griffins are instead shown with bursts of spikes, which are supposed to represent the rays of the sun.
But did I know any of this when I wrote The Griffin Mage trilogy? Actually, no. I learned most of it just now, when looking up stuff about mythological creatures for this very post.
When I decided to include griffins in a story of my own, I actually wasn’t of thinking of griffins from a historical or symbolic or heraldic perspective. I was thinking of the griffins I have loved in other people’s stories. The griffins in Diana Wynne Jones’ Year of the Griffin, for example. I love Kit and Callette and Elda and the other griffins in that story!
Or how about O’Donohoe’s wonderful griffin, Asturiel, from The Magic and the Healing trilogy? Has anybody else read this excellent trilogy? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. Asturiel isn’t the main character, but he’s certainly memorable. He’s a bit rigid and more than a little ruthless – in fact, he reminds me more than a little of Inspector Javert from Les Miserables. But then, I always did sympathize with Inspector Javert. I actually had O’Donohoe’s griffin in mind when I first thought of including griffins in a book of my own, which only goes to show, because of course my griffins are absolutely nothing like Asturiel.
What happened was, I wrote the first couple of paragraphs of Lord of the Changing Winds, and those paragraphs came out more or less this way:
The griffins came to Feierabiand with the early summer warmth, riding the wind out of the heights down to the tender pastures of the foothills. The wind they brought with them was a hard hot wind, with nothing of the gentle Feierabiand summer about it. It tasted of red dust and hot brass.
Kes . . . saw them come: great bronze wings shining in the sun, tawny pelts like molten gold, sunlight striking harshly off beaks and talons. One was a hard shining white, one red as the coals at the heart of a fire. The griffins rode their wind like soaring eagles, wings outstretched and still. The sky took on a fierce metallic tone as they passed. They turned around the shoulder of the mountain and disappeared, one and then another and another, until they had all passed out of sight. Behind them, the sky softened slowly to its accustomed gentle blue.
And this was completely unexpected. I’m serious. I honestly had no idea I was going to make griffins into creatures of fire until, check it out, there they are bringing a desert with them into the ordinary countryside. Who knew?
But I liked the idea at once. I didn’t just keep it, I ran with it. Right away it was obvious that if griffins were going to be creatures of fire, this could set them up as different from ordinary human people, who I immediately decided were creatures of earth. And if griffins were going to be different from humans, I decided I’d make them different – different not only physically and in the magic they use, but also psychologically. Though I hope readers will enjoy my griffins, and sympathize with them, and more or less kind of understand them, my griffins aren’t human – and from that difference arises the underlying conflict that drives the whole griffin trilogy.
Could I have used dragons instead of griffins? Of course . But everybody who reads fantasy has already got a favorite dragon, isn’t that right? Or at the very least a clear picture of what a proper dragon ought to be like, whether a dangerous monster, or basically a regular person, or a wonderful plot device. We already know plenty about dragons. But griffins don’t come with such firmly attached images or associations. I had fun taking a less well-known mythological creature off in a direction even I couldn’t predict. And I hope my readers have fun with that, too!
You can find Rachel Neumeier:
Blog: Rachel Neumeier
You can now find the complete The Griffin Mage Trilogy in one neat book:
Or you can purchase each book separately: